Czech literature(redirected from Czech Republic/Literature)
Czech literature dates from the 10th cent. The legends of St. Wenceslaus, composed in that century, were written in Old Church Slavonic. Until c.1400, Czech literature consisted mainly of Latin chronicles (Cosmas of Prague, 1125) and of Czech hymns, tales of chivalry, and romances in verse. The 15th cent. witnessed a poetic flowering that paralleled increasing national consciousness. In 1394, Smil Flaška of Pardubice initiated modern realistic Czech literature with an allegorical admonition in verse, New Council. In a similar vein were the sermons of Tomáš Štítný (c.1331–c.1401) and the works of the peasant mystic Petr Chelčický (The Net of the True Faith, 1440–43).
The language reforms of John Huss helped to make Czech an effective literary language for the writers of the Renaissance, as in the works of the humanists, in the religious and secular writings of the Moravian bishop Jan Blahoslav (1503–71), and in the histories of Veleslavin (1545–99). The crowning glory of the age was the Kralice Bible, translated by the Czech Brethren and published from 1579 to 1593. The Thirty Years War (1618–48) brought wholesale destruction of Czech literary works followed by repression of national life.
In the 17th cent. the great educator Comenius (Jan Amos Komenský), like many other Czechs, worked in exile, and the language was gradually reduced to little more than a peasant dialect. In the late 18th cent. men like the philologists Josef Dobrovský and Josef Jungmann helped to rehabilitate writing in Czech. Jan Kollár led the Pan-Slavic revival in the early 19th cent., while Karel Hynek Mácha, considered the foremost Czech poet, expressed a Byronic romanticism developed further by the novelist Božena Nĕmcová and the poet Karel J. Erben.
The Nineteenth Century
Modern Czech Literature
After 1890 realism gained force with the writings of the influential critic Thomas Masaryk. Proletarian and rural themes were developed, and writers such as Jaroslav Vrchlický, J. S. Machar, Petr Bezruč, and Otokar Březina won fame at home, while Karel Čapek brought Czech literature into the mainstream of world letters. In the period from 1918 to 1938 Czech literature was the most cosmopolitan of the Slavonic literatures; at the same time native themes were cultivated. A dominant trend was the movement away from the intellectual and the individual toward the abstract and the hedonistic. Jaroslav Hašek produced his classic war satire, The Good Soldier Schweik (4 vol., 1920–23), and Franz Kafka dominated the literary circles of Prague.
The German occupation saw the destruction of Czech literary art and the death of many outstanding figures. After World War II a reorientation of Czech writing toward Russia ensued, and socialist realism became dominant in Czech literature. Postwar novelists of note include Egon Hostovský and Jan Drda. Some relaxation of the strictures of socialist realism was evident in the 1950s and 60s; the novelist and short-story writer Bohumil Hrabal was popular during the Prague Spring, but his works subsequently were banned. Emigration brought a wider audience to the writers Milan Kundera and Josef Škvorecký, who also found their works banned in Czechoslovakia.
See W. E. Harkins, ed., Anthology of Czech Literature (1953); M. Součková, A Literature in Crisis (1954) and The Czech Romantics (1958); P. Selver, ed., An Anthology of Czechoslovak Literature (1929, repr. 1969); W. E. Harkins, ed. and tr., Czech Prose (1983); A. Novák, Czech Literature (rev. ed. 1986); G. J. Kovtun, Czech and Slovak Literature in English (1984, 1988); An Anthology of Czech Literature (1990); P. Hruby, Daydreams and Nightmares: Czech Communist and Ex-Communist Literature, 1917–1987 (1990).